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Sick of management training that doesn't change anything? You need to start at the beginning.

Most CEOs and senior leaders, somewhere along the way, have made a training investment they regretted; a training investment that didn't change anything. Three months after the training was complete, all the old habits and behaviours resurfaced, leaving behind nothing but the question:


"Why on earth did we bother?"

If you can relate, you're not alone. According to a study from the Conference Board of Canada, only 46% of organizations indicated that employees applied their learning immediately after a training program "to a large extent or completely." This number dropped to 18% six months later and to only 16% one year after training! (see citation below)


It's no wonder so many CEOs and HR Managers are hesitant to invest in management training, even when they know it's what their people need; even when they know it's what their business needs if they are going to keep growing.


Why doesn't training stick, and how can we increase the odds?


To be fair, adult learning is a complex field. There are a lot variables at play. Research tells us the most significant variable is the level of engagement from the trainee's supervisor. Other variables include organizational culture, having the time available to use the new skills and having reward systems that align with these new skills.


When it comes to management training, there's one key variable that isn't talked about often enough.


Training needs to cover the right skills, in the right order.


There is a law of nature to the learning journey. We humans follow it with everything we master.


Everything, that is, except learning how to manage.

By way of example, I have two kids who play the piano. 🎹 On any given day in our house, you can hear the joyful sounds of "I'm not going first! It's your turn to go first!" followed by "Yeah well YOU left your books all over the floor and I'M NOT picking them up!"


It's pure bliss 🙄. But I digress.


On any given day, you can also hear the sounds of scales, chords and metronomes. And on some days...you can hear actual music 🎶. You might be wondering...


"Laura, why don't you hear actual music everyday?"

Because just like everything in life that takes time to learn, there’s an order of operations to learning to play the piano, and it goes like this:

 

Step 1: My kids have to learn how to figure out the little black dots on the page and understand which keys on the piano they correspond to.


Step 2: They have to get their little fingers to obey their little brains, to learn the physical patterns of these notes. Which fingers, on which notes, in which order. They learn where to cross over, where to play together, where to play separate. The right notes, at the right time, according to what's written.


Step 3: They repeat. Repetition turns these patterns they've learned into a habit. Into a structure. Into a meaningful routine that takes less and less brain power to execute, as it becomes engrained in their bodies.


Step 4: Then...and only then...once this structure is in place, can they layer on their style, their personality, their individual expression and their touch...all the elements that can turn a bunch of little black dots on a page into something that can move me to tears.

 

It is this mechanization of the patterns that sets them free.


The automation of the proper patterns frees their minds to envision what they are trying to create - they can visualize the actual cliffs the composer might have had in mind when he wrote "From the Cliffs." Their brains can tap into their emotions, their personalities, their interpretation of the music, if they don't need to focus on the right notes and rhythms.


Structure sets them free to be their best version of themselves.

I want you to look at Management Training in the same way.


We all want our Managers to excel in their roles. Every CEO I know understands there is a direct correlation between the skill of their managers and the long-term success of their business. Every HR leader knows there is a direct correlation between the skill of their managers and an employee's experience of their workplace. And just like learning to play an instrument, there’s an order of operations to this journey. If we want Managers who will drive a business forward strategically, you have to start with some structure - a structure that will ensure they are getting results.


What does this structure look like? It's a combination having a specific goal, the right meetings on the right rhythm, and meaningful metrics. In others words, a plan...followed by actions that move their team toward that plan...followed by a measuring of progress.


Engaging in training that starts with "know thyself" or "show up and serve" when Managers aren't even doing the things that would make them good stewards of their departments, is putting the cart before the horse. It's like starting at the top of Maslow's Hierarchy, instead of the bottom.

We can't get to self-actualization unless we first have the basics mastered. When it comes to management effectiveness, we need to start with stability, which comes from achieving consistent results. It doesn't matter how well we know ourselves or how servant-oriented we are, if we don't have a foundation of strong habits.


The mechanization of good management patterns is what sets them free.


If you're wondering why your management or leadership training didn't stick, maybe it's because your managers are trying to learn in the wrong order - against the laws of nature.


First make sure your managers have a set of established routines that will enable them to get consistent results. From here, you'll have a strong foundation to build upon as you layer in the skills to nurture others and pursue transformational leadership.


Not only will you see tangible results from your training investment much more quickly, you'll also have managers who'll see tangible results more quickly, which lays the groundwork for further behavioural change.


In other words, training that sticks.



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The Skillful Manager Program develops exceptional Managers: Managers who Get Results. Managers who Nurture Others. Managers who Build your Legacy. You can learn more about our training programs here.


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References:

  1. Source: Hall, C., & Cotsman, S.. Learning & development outlook - 13th edition: Learning as a lever for performance. Ottawa: The Conference Board of Canada, p.76

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